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Bridging the Digital Divide by Ensuring Broadband on Indian Tribal Lands

March 18, 2009 – The digital divide between America’s well-to-do regions and its rural and tribal countryside were on display in the first panel of the federal government’s Tuesday public meeting, in Las Vegas, on spending the broadband stimulus.

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News | NTIA-RUS Forum | Day 2, Session 1

March 18, 2009 – The digital divide between America’s well-to-do regions and its rural and tribal countryside were on display in the first panel of the federal government’s Tuesday public meeting, in Las Vegas, on spending the broadband stimulus.

The first of three panel discussions during the joint meeting of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service March 17 focused on the state of “vulnerable populations” within the United States, the need to drive demand for broadband, and the role of strategic institutions.

Jeff Sandstrom of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development said his state had witnessed an unprecedented population explosion in the context of “a large percentage of federally-owned land than any other state in the nation.”

A majority of the rural Nevadas have yet to access broadband, said Sandstrom, even though fiber networks laid down during the “.com” boom of the 1990s had provided that technological hope.

“The debate we are having here is one of access, not shortage or need or applications,” he said.

Finding ways to extend broadband would play a major role in Nevada’s “economic revolution,” Sandstrom said, particularly with the state’s focus on solar and geothermal power.Additionally, Nevada’s wildlife, agriculture, e-learning, telemedicine and business communities would benefit from better broadband, he said.

“The residents of Nevada would have a just access to a quality of life,” he said.

The Nevada Rural Housing Authority’s Gary Longacre decried the disparity of access to broadband between Nevada’s tribal areas and the rest of the country.

“Many of the communities in such contexts are either unserved or underserved,” he said. It is “too expensive to build the last mile.”

But rural and tribal communities still need broadband to access essential services.

Karen Twenhafel of Telecom Consulting Service, representing the National Tribal Telecommunication Association, said the stimulus funding for broadband was “extending an expensive opportunity.”

Eight American tribes, she said, already have their own telephone companies and continue to pursue “self-provision of communication services.”

Others among the Indian tribal lands – at least 29 percent, she said – still do not have access to broadband technology. “For 4.3 million Americans, this type of participation is simply not available.”

Seventy-five years after the passage of the Communications Act of 1934, there is still no formal tracking of telecommunications conditions, she said.

“In spending the broadband stimulus, priority ought to be given to service areas where the penetration rate of those service areas are below 15% or below of the national average of those services,” she said. Tribal lands should be designated as “separate and exclusive service areas.”

“We can no longer have applications that serve surrounding lands, but not the tribal lands,” she said. She also said that tribal governments should be consulted throughout the process.

Valerie Fast Horse, council member and director of information technology for the Coeur d’Alene tribe, continued with panel’s concern for broadband for tribal communities. “The communications of this nation is only as strong as its weakest link.”

She said that tribal and rural areas had been left behind in communication development. What is needed now, she said, is infrastructure “with a long shelf-life” – referring to fiber-optic technology appropriate for delivering broadband into rural communities.

“True communication development cannot happen if we only focus on capitalizing infrastructure and equipment, while ignoring our human spirit,” she said.

Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties, noted that 1, 200 miles of fiber had already been laid in Nevada, and that it could aid transition into more widespread broadband – and public spending on broadband deployment.

During the public comment session, several panelists agreed upon the need to carry out environmental impact assessments and to development new energy sources, as part of wider broadband deployment.

Also, computer pricing issues might have to be addressed in order to help drive public demand for broadband technology.

A member of the audience warned that inner-city communities must not be neglected in an effort to mitigate rural and tribal needs.

The validity of some U.S. Census Bureau data validity was questioned, too, with Twenhafel saying that “phone penetration data is normally below what is reported in census data.”

Several individuals at the meeting said that wireless technologies were an important component of meeting the needs of rural and tribal areas.

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Funding

State Broadband Offices Need to Increase Their Capacity, Improve Data, and Communicate Well

NTIA’s Evan Feinman spoke about what states need to keep in mind as they prepare for BEAD funds.

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Photo of Evan Feinman from AEI

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration webinar event on Tuesday focused on the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Notice of Funding Opportunity. The webinar highlighted three important items to keep in mind as states begin to receive money for broadband planning.

The first, according to Evan Feinman, deputy associate administrator for BEAD, was for states to consider your office’s capacity. Each state will receive a minimum of $100 million. Very few states have the human resources required to adequately run a program of this magnitude, he said.

The second is to build up research and data collections of broadband coverage at a state level. The Federal Communications Commission will soon release a new mapping system. It will be necessary, said Feinman, to “engage meaningfully” with these maps using state’s own research and data. Furthermore, states should have the necessary data to engage with internet service providers and the NTIA as they determine who is served and unserved.

Third, states should develop a clear-cut plan for outreach and communication support with stakeholders. Stakeholders include telecom providers, tribal governments, local governments, and community organizations.

The planning step is a great point for stakeholders to become involved in the process, said Feinman. “There is an expectation that lives throughout this program that folks are going to engage really thoroughly and in an outgoing way with their stakeholders.”

See other articles on the NTIA webinars issues in the wake of the Notices of Funding Opportunity on the Broadband.Money community:

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FCC

Treasury Department Joins FCC, USDA and NTIA in Collaborating on Broadband Funding

Agency leaders sign pact to formalize information-sharing on broadband deployment projects.

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Photo of Janet Yellen from January 2018 by the European Central Bank

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2022—Just in advance of the deadline for the release of the funding requirements under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs act, the four principal federal agencies responsible for broadband funding released an interagency agreement to share information about and collaborate regarding the collection and reporting of certain data and metrics relating to broadband deployment.

The agencies are the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The Memorandum of Understanding is the latest development in federal efforts to coordinate high-speed internet spending, and the Treasury Department is the new addition to agreement.

The other three agencies signed a prior memorandum in June 2021 to coordinate the distribution of federal high-speed internet funds. That June 2021 Memorandum of Understanding remains in effect.

The respective Cabinet and Agency leaders announced that their agencies will consult with one another and share information on data collected from programs administered by the FCC, the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, programs administered or coordinated by NTIA, and Treasury’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund and State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

“No matter who you are or where you live in this country, you need access to high-speed internet to have a fair shot at 21st century success. The FCC, NTIA, USDA and Treasury are working together like never before to meet this shared goal,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Our new interagency agreement will allow us to collaborate more efficiently and deepen our current data sharing relationships[and] get everyone, everywhere connected to the high-speed internet they need.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “When we invest in rural infrastructure, we invest in the livelihoods and health of people in rural America. High-speed internet is the new electricity.  It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, to have access to health care and to stay connected.”

“USDA remains committed to being a strong partner with rural communities and our state, Tribal and federal partners in building ‘future-proof’ broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage across the country.”

“Our whole-of-government effort to expand broadband adoption must be coordinated and efficient if we are going to achieve our mission,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and head of the NTIA, the agency responsible for administering the vast bulk of the broadband funding.

“This MOU will allow us to build the tools we need for even better data-sharing and transparency in the future,” he said.

“Treasury is proud to work with our federal agency partners to achieve President Biden’s goal of closing the nation’s digital divide,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen.  “Access to affordable, high-speed internet is critical to the continued strength of our economy and a necessity for every American household, school, and business.”

As part of the signed agreement, each federal agency partner will share information about projects that have received or will receive funding from the previously mentioned federal funding sources.  More information on what the interagency Memorandum of Understanding entails can be found on the FCC’s website.  The agreement is effective at the date of its signing, May 11, 2022.

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FCC

FCC and NTIA Chiefs Name Jessica Quinley, Douglas Brake and Timothy May to Advisory Committees

NTIA representatives to join FCC technology and security committees, FCC rep on spectrum committee

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Photo of Doug Brake from Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2022—Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Assistant Secretary of Commerce Alan Davidson on Friday named staff representatives to participate on each other’s advisory committees. The effort is a component of the Spectrum Coordination Initiative of the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department.

As part of the initiative, the agencies are working with each other and the private sector.

“To succeed as spectrum partners, the FCC and NTIA must hear from and listen to each other in both formal and informal ways,” said Rosenworcel.

“A common understanding of spectrum engineering and market conditions is essential for the success of our efforts at the FCC and NTIA to manage the country’s spectrum resources,” said Davidson.

Rosenworcel named Jessica Quinley of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau to participate as an observer in NTIA’s Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee. Quinley currently serves as an Acting Legal Advisor in the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. She was an attorney at NTIA for more than four years.

Davidson named Douglas Brake, a Spectrum Policy Specialist, and Timothy May, a Senior Advisor, to participate in the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council and its Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council, respectively.

Brake, a Spectrum Policy Specialist with NTIA, previously directed the broadband and spectrum policy work at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.  May currently serves as a Senior Advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary where he has worked for four years.  Before joining NTIA, he was a Policy Analyst in the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

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